The two Fallopian tubes (oviducts) that make up part of a woman’s reproductive system are named after Gabriello Fallopio, a 16th Century Italian doctor and anatomist who lectured at the University of Padua.
One Fallopian tube (Fallopian salpinx) leads from each ovary to the uterus. They are about 10-12.5 cm long and the end near the ovaries (called the infundibulum) is rather like a bent hand with its extended fingers encircling the ovary, although not actually touching it. At the other end the tube blends with the upper corner of the uterus.
Once a month, about halfway between menstrual periods, one ovary releases an egg (ova). The egg is swept into the Fallopian tube by the waving fingers and transported down to the uterus. If, on its passage through the tube, the egg is fertilised by a male sperm introduced during sexual intercourse, pregnancy will result when the fertilised egg implants in the wall of the uterus.
Occasionally, the fertilised egg becomes implanted in the wall of the Fallopian tube, in which case it is an ectopic pregnancy. This is a dangerous and usually very painful occurrence, as the fertilised egg rapidly becomes too large for the tube and can cause it to rupture. If an ectopic pregnancy happens, the tube will usually have to be removed by surgery, but provided the woman still has one tube, she can still become pregnant.
If the egg passes down the tube without being fertilised, it will simply pass out of the body when the woman has her period.
A woman who is certain she does not want any more children may elect to have her Fallopian tubes tied (tubal ligation). This involves an operation to close the Fallopian tubes so that the egg and the sperm cannot meet.